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What Direction Forward for the Democrats? – posted 5/21/2017 and published in the Concord Monitor on 5/27/2017

May 21, 2017 1 comment

With so much focus on the Trump presidency and its daily spectacle, it is easy to overlook the dilemma of the Democrats. The Democrats are having an identity crisis. It is not clear where the Democratic Party is heading and what kind of Democratic Party will emerge.

I do not think the question of what kind of Democratic Party we need gets asked enough. Maybe some Democrats just want to be a big tent that is not Republican with no further self-definition.

While according to a new Gallup poll, Trump has a 38% favorability rating which is one of the lowest a president has ever had, especially early in a presidency, Democrats’ poll numbers are equally bad. The Democratic Party has a 40% favorability rating. The Democrats’ favorability rating has dropped 5% since the November election.

More people now identify as independents than as Republicans or Democrats.

The opinion that the Democrats are out of touch is widespread. In a different poll authorized by the Washington Post, only 28% of those polled felt the Democrats were in touch with the concerns of most people in the United States today. Among Democrats themselves, 44% felt the Party was out of touch.

Certainly the accuracy of any poll can be disputed but by any objective standard, the Democrats are weak. All the losses speak for themselves. The Democrats have been losing badly for some time now, especially in rural America.

To think it is enough to be simply anti-Trump would be a big mistake. There are many possible ways to oppose but opposition to Trump alone guarantees nothing about the Democrats’ future prospects.

Looking at statements made since the election by Democratic Party leaders, I find the Party lacking in genuine self-reflection. I would begin with the previous standard-bearer, Hillary Clinton. In her public statements and apparently in her upcoming book, Secretary Clinton faults Russian meddling in the election, former FBI Director Comey’s actions, Wikileaks’ theft of emails from her campaign chair, John Podesta, and misogyny as the reasons for her loss.

So far nothing has been articulated about the role of the DNC and the failure of the Democrats to highlight a resonant message for how the election of Democrats would change the lives of ordinary Americans.

Sadly, and I speak as a progressive Democrat, I do not think the Democratic Party establishment gets it. They do not grasp what went wrong in 2016. Right now I would say there is a good chance that in spite of widespread revulsion to Trump, the Democrats could blow it again.

At the outset, let me say that this is not about Hillary versus Bernie. That is water under the bridge. There are no doubt hard feelings on both sides but that is the past and the Party needs to move on.

So what is the Party not getting? I think it is a matter of vision and self-definition. The Party does not clearly stand for anything. Even with its silos of position papers, it lacks a bold vision. No one can really say what the Democratic Party would want America to look like in 2050.

Although it has a history of being the political party allegedly representing the little guy, in 2016 it gave up on being a party of change. Instead, Democrats were widely viewed as the status quo party.

Democrats allowed Trump and the Republicans to define themselves as a party of change. Stealing the mantle of change was shrewd campaign strategy and the Democrats never grasped the harm.

The absurdity of the Republicans as a change political party cannot be emphasized enough. The Republicans have always represented the interests of the 1%, the most conservative billionaires. No amount of public relations will ever change that.

In an era defined by economic inequality, the Democrats have failed to recognize the economic desperation of masses of working people, including those in rural America. This desperation has been right under their noses but, with some notable exceptions, they have missed it. Clinton’s failure to even campaign in Wisconsin maybe be the best single example of this cluelessness.

It should probably not need to be said but for the last 40 years, the American working class was hammered by our own corporate class who closed up shop and sent jobs to cheap labor in the Third World. That was all about maximizing profit at the expense of American workers. So many of the previously good-paying union jobs disappeared and when jobs have been replaced too often they are low-paying Mcjobs. Economic mobility has declined, especially for those lacking a college degree.

Instead of representing the interests of working people, the Democrats have too often acted as representatives of the prosperous professional class or of liberal billionaires. The Democrats failed to show working people both that they understood the misfortune inflicted or that they cared about it.

I see the last election as a smackdown on the Democrats for their elitism. Even though Trump is a phony populist who will not deliver for working people, many were willing to roll the dice and bet on him because at least he promised change. He talked a good game about forgotten Americans even though he is a con man of the first rank.

So what would a pro-worker agenda look like? It is not just a laundry list of issues like $15 an hour minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, Medicare-for-all health insurance, expanded union and worker rights and free college tuition at public colleges and universities. It is more of an outlook of caring and concern for hardworking Americans wherever they are. Whether you are white, black, Latino, or Asian, it does not matter. Democrats need to leave behind the division between red states and blue states. The Party needs to care about working people issues in all 50 states.

There is a need for the equivalent of a Marshall Plan for our own hollowed out economy that rebuilds infrastructure and cares about the many places in America that have been neglected. This needs to be done with an ecological awareness too.

While the FDR coalition is a long time ago, Democrats could learn from that historical experience. There was a reason working people loyally supported FDR for years. He did much to support them. Hope will replace economic fatalism when Democrats have a vision, outlook and agenda that genuinely speaks to the needs of the masses of Americans.

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┬áThe Dark Spectre of Anti-Semitism Re-Emerges – posted 5/6/2017 and published in the Concord Monitor on 5/14/2017

May 7, 2017 2 comments

For a long time, it seemed like anti-semitism was dead in America. Sure, there were anti-semitic incidents but they were few and far between. Now it appears that anti-semitism is making a comeback.

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), anti-semitic incidents have spiked in the first quarter of 2017. ADL reported 541 anti-semitic incidents nationally, including 380 harassment incidents, 155 vandalism incidents, and 6 physical assaults. That follows a surge of anti-semitic acts in the last quarter of 2016.

Just to give a flavor:

In Whitefish, Montana, since December, a Jewish woman, Sherry Gersh, her husband, and her 12 year old son have been targets of a campaign of harassment, trolling and intimidation by white supremacists and the alt-right. Gersh and her family have received more than 700 anti-semitic emails, phone calls, texts, social media comments, and letters. Many of the messages have been extremely threatening calling her a “slimy jewess” and an “oven-dodging Christ killer”. The “troll storm” initiated by a neo-Nazi website featured day and night harassment of Gersh. The Southern Poverty Law Center has now filed a federal court lawsuit against the neo-Nazi website and its publisher seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

In February this year, Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in Philadelphia, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and just outside St. Louis. The perpetrators damaged more than 100 headstones in Philadelphia, almost 200 headstones near St Louis, and 55 headstones in Fort Wayne.

Last November, Marna Street, a violist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was walking to her car after a rehearsal. Someone painted a swastika on the trunk of her car. Street had placed a magnet on her car indicating that she was Jewish.

In 2016, the writer Julia Ioffe wrote a profile of Melania Trump for GQ Magazine. She received a flood of hateful tweets, phone calls and emails many of which were anti-semitic. On Twitter, users posted photos of Ioffe’s face superimposed on a mug shot from Auschwitz.

Ioffe’s experience was not unique. The conservative Jewish writer, Bethany Mandel, found her anti-Trump tweets met with a terrifying response. She was told that she “deserved the oven”. Trump’s anti-Semitic followers “doxed” her. “Dox” is a term for adversaries’ attempt to ferret out private or identifying information online, with malicious intent. Mandel, who had converted to Judaism, felt so threatened that she purchased a gun.

I think it is worth mentioning that many journalists, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have received similarly abusive and disgusting treatment by the alt-right if they did not support Trump.

In response to all these incidents, Oren Segal, the Director of the ADL Center on Extremism said:

“These incidents need to be seen in the context of a general resurgence of white supremacist activity in the United States. Extremists and anti-semites feel emboldened and are using technology in new ways to spread their hatred and to impact the Jewish community on and off line.”

So why the uptick in anti-semitism now? I think undoubtedly it is connected to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Trump unleashed the dogs. During the campaign he looked the other way while white supremacists, anti-semites and the alt-right became more assertive in his campaign. It was well known that one component part of the Trump coalition was hardcore racist.

Although no candidate can be responsible for all the actions of his supporters, the candidate does set a tone. By his inaction, Trump conciliated the racists and anti-semites. The fact that Trump has a Jewish son-in-law does not change that. The problem was his long failure to speak out. That silence was acquiescence.

ADL reported 34 incidents linked to the election, In Denver, graffiti posted in May 2016 said, “Kill the Jews, Vote Trump”. In November a St Petersburg Florida man was accosted by a stranger who told him, “Trump is going to finish what Hitler started”.

ADL also found an increase in anti-semitic incidents at non-Jewish elementary, middle, and high schools. In 2015 there were 114 reported incidents. That increased to 235 in 2016. In the first quarter of 2017, 95 incidents were reported. It is not surprising that if more parents are expressing anti-semitism, it will show up among children.

Trump has played a cagey game with anti-semitism. While he very recently denounced it, which is certainly positive, he spent the campaign conspicuously ignoring it, remaining silent. He got support from white supremacists and neo-Nazis like David Duke, Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin. The Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party endorsed Trump.

Trump’s denunciation of anti-semitism has been weak – too little, too late. He consistently passed on denouncing the creepy anti-semites and racists who infested his campaign. Now we have one denunciation after almost two years of silence.

I would agree with the assessment made by the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. In February, they released a statement directed at the President.

“Rightly or wrongly, the most vicious anti-semites in America are looking at you and your administration as a nationalistic movement granting them permission to attack Jews.”

Trump appeared to condone and even encourage violence at his campaign events. Singling out protesters to be ejected from his campaign rallies, encouraging the audience to remove those with contrary opinions, saying he would pay the legal bills of his supporters who attacked his opponents – that is not exactly behavior worthy of any President. Anti-semitism fits right into that type of mindset.

There is a reason anti-semitism is called the longest hatred. There is an ancient tradition of blaming Jews for disasters. The tradition partly has its roots in religious rivalry. Ruling elites also found it convenient to scapegoat Jews to deflect blame away from themselves.

The relative economic success of some American Jews should not lead to a dismissal of the danger of anti-semitism. Oppression is not entirely a matter of economic hardship. I think anti-semitism is similar to the oppression of LGBTQ people or women. The hatred transcends economic class.

What I find particularly worrisome now is the new form of online anti-semitism. In 2016, Twitter and social media saw a steep rise in the spread of anti-semitic content. Anti-semitic and racist cowards, hiding anonymously on the internet, are viciously harassing perceived opponents of all political persuasions.

I do not think that bigotry against Jews can be separated from the wider assault against Latinos, Muslims, people of color, gays and lesbians or immigrants. All forms of hatred must be fought.

Considering the 20th century experience of the Holocaust, anti-semitism must never be taken lightly. It must always be vigorously combated. That is true whether you are conservative, libertarian, moderate, liberal, progressive or socialist. 

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